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Q&A: Two minutes with... Ben Bolgar

Community / Shutterstock: 144653342

Ben Bolgar is senior director for The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community. The foundation has recently launched Bimby (Beauty In My Back Yard), an online toolkit that enables communities to influence the siting and design of new housing

What is Bimby?
“It’s a response to the awareness of nimbyism that has grown from The Prince’s Foundation’s experience in community-led planning. The foundation has seen that people don’t want to be Nimbys but it often becomes a default position when they feel disempowered by the way developments are planned and built. Bimby is “marriage guidance” for the community, planners, developers and landowners.”

How is the “marriage guidance” delivered?
“Via the Bimby Housing Toolkit at www.bimby.org.uk. It’s a free online resource that guides the user through three workshops. The content [generated from these] is dropped into existing templates that create a Bimby Housing Manual. The toolkit is simple to use and understand and the final manual is bolstered with the technical information and understanding that the foundation has developed.”

Who has designed it?
“It’s based on 25 years of designing and implementing better places on the ground. We also tested it before it went live and during a community feedback phase. You could say that all those who gave us feedback have helped design it.”

Isn’t there a risk that an initiative like this becomes a tool for a vocal minority people to impose a narrow idea of “beautiful” design on their communities?
“We’re keen that any community’s Bimby Manual is truly representative of what a community wants to see built in their area. There are several elements built into the toolkit that help to involve as many people as possible. As long as a wide cross-section is involved, it would be hard for a subsection to push through what represents their idea of beauty. Bimby empowers communities to express a consensus of what they want to see built.

What sorts of places have used the toolkit so far? Any urban areas?
“Yes, although the website only came out of community testing in February, we know it has application in all areas, urban and rural. Some of the Bimby Pioneer groups range from London to Liverpool.

“Whilst there are added complications for neighbourhood plans in urban areas, that does not mean that their distinctiveness should be lost with new development. Bimby is an empowering way for communities to really prescribe what makes their place unique and how development could improve and enhance their area – whether surrounded by fields or bricks and mortar – as opposed to general guidance which has a lack of influence in the development process.”

How do local authorities view BIMBY?
“One of the main issues with neighbourhood planning so far has been officer time. Bimby has provided people with instructions on how to go about the process and where to approach your planning officers for help. Removing some of the need for officer facilitation has led to better working relationships between local authorities and their communities.”

Are you having an effect on the problems you’re trying to solve?
“It’s still in its infancy, but the fact that the process of creating a Bimby Housing Manual is quicker than other ways of creating a neighbourhood plan has definitely helped bring community groups together.

“I think the country understands that we need more homes, but also that local planning authorities are doing their best to meet these needs. Planners’ time is increasingly valuable and by using Bimby, communities can undertake a lot of the work themselves. Additionally, more people can engage in the planning process and understand the elements planners have to consider when place making.”

Find out more about Bimby at www.bimby.org.uk

Ben will be participating in a panel discussion at this year’s RTPI Convention on the topic of Building quality into Design

Image credit | Shuttershock


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